Are you raising healthy eaters?

Are you raising healthy eaters?

Having a picky eater as my first born child not only pushed my boundaries, but taught me many lessons. Things about myself, my child and the society we live in. I researched it endlessly and spent many (late) nights reading recipes and advice from the so called experts. I was convinced, it was me who didn’t do something right, that I was a failure and most of all a bad mom. Writing these words still make me sad and emotional. I still wonder, could I have done something better, differently?

Can you relate?

I received lots of emails and messages last week asking to cover the topic of fussy eater children.

Before I start sharing my experience and advice, you need to know that this comes from personal experience and also from studying for my nutrition diploma, doing lots of research. I have no specific qualification in neurodivergent children. If you are concerned that your child’s fussy eating goes beyond what you would consider “normal”, please consult your health professional. What works for one family, might not work for yours and sometimes what worked yesterday, will not work today.

  1. Rule out any medical issues, vitamin deficiencies: It is important to speak to your GP and raise your concerns. You know your child best and you need to listen to your gut feeling. Keep going until you get some answers you are happy with. I spent many years going back and forth to health visitors and GPs, who all kept telling me my daughter was growing nicely and seemed to have enough energy (as she was always sporty) and that it was just a phase. Only recently, I managed to get a blood test for her which showed she was low on iron. This might not seem like a big issue but we know how important iron is for cognitive health and can affect your mental health, contribute to mood swings. Sometimes, the picky eating is (partially) due to deficiency in certain nutrients that can easily be rectified.
  2. Is your child hungry when you offer them a meal? Sometimes we are so busy we end up having meals too close to snack times as the child might be too hungry and the dinner is not yet ready. Remember to allow at least 2 hours between meals.
  3. Portion sizes: Do you offer the correct amount of food to your child? It could be that they are over faced by the full plate.
  4. Concentrate on what your child had in a week as opposed to in a day. Hunger can fluctuate, just like it does for us. You might have had a heavier lunch and fancy a smaller portion for dinner. Or you might not be feeling too well so you eat less.
  5. Write a list of foods that your child likes, eats but not always and a list of things your child refuses to eat. Repeat this every 3 months. You may realise your child eats a lot more than you give them credit for. Concentrate on what your child likes to eat then start pushing their boundaries.
  6. Consistency: I notice this with neurodivergent children especially but I think it is safe to say, that most children love a routine and knowing what comes next. It is the same with food. Have a routine and set meal times – as much as it is possible with your timetable – and stick to it. It is also easier to plan and figure out meal times and snack times.
  7. Meal planning: This is also a great way of creating certainty, especially for children with anxiety or eating disorders. Stick a planner on the fridge so that they know what foods they will be having that week.

A few tips on how to experiment that worked for us. You will need to try these techniques multiple times, not enough to do it once.

  • Safe foods served in different ways: Let’s say that your child likes carrot that you always serve them chopped up in sticks. You know they will eat the carrots this way. Use a peeler to create carrot ribbons or chop to circles or with a crinkly cutter to create different shapes. If you always give carrots to them raw, try baking them, caramelise with herbs or just steam. The idea is to show your child that these safe foods can come in different shapes and they are still ok to eat.
  • Veg / fruit that looks similar to the safe foods: If your child likes carrots, think of other veggies that resembles the carrot in either appearance, flavour or texture. Try butternut squash or sweet potatoes and serve with carrots on the same plate.

Other things that worked for us and families I have supported:

  • Meal plan together: Make it fun, browse recipes together or look through your cook books and ask what they fancy.
  • Ask your child to help you write / draw a shopping list.
  • Stay calm! I get frustrated when they don’t eat the food I have cooked or make a fuss about it. For my own sanity and theirs, I try to keep calm while we eat. It might be that I start counting in my head, do some slow breathing or sometimes remove myself from the table and potter around but stay in the kitchen. It is harder said than to be done, but seems to work magic.
  • Go shopping together, let them grab a basket and pick a few new items up.
  • Grow herbs, salads (in small pots in your kitchen) or if you have the space and time, even vegetables or fruits.
  • Cook together: You hear me talk about this a lot and I cannot emphasise the importance of this.

What has worked best for you and your family? Share your top tips with us in the comments below!

If you need more support, please get in touch to discuss how you could work with me on a one-to-one basis.

With the love of food,